Santana & McLaughlin

Invitation To Illumination

Live at Montreux 2011

(Eagle Rock/Universal)

Back in the early 70’s, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana the guitar stylists got together to record an album – Love Devotion Surrender – which leant on their spiritual sides and included jazz influences. The highlight of that record was an exhilarating take on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, featuring dizzying guitar rallies, spooky organ from the late Larry Young and a hypnotic mantra-like bass line over a steady tempo. On the later Welcome album by Santana, these two took a torch to FlameSky, towards the end of the running sequence. Now older and in John’s case somewhat less frenetic, the two masters took to the Montreux Festival stage in 2011 with an awesome band of cool players to play a set of blues, and jazz tunes with the requisite amounts of groove and incendiary playing.

This double live album really raises the roof, as video clips I have found further testify. The joy on the stage is evident. Festival boss the late Claude Nobs must have been delighted and indeed Carlos gets him to play harp on the final number.

Cindy Blackman Santana and the mighty Denis Chambers man the drumkits, percussionist Paul Recow has an interesting time complementing the moods, the rolling bass of Etienne M’Bappe is staggering as is the bass of Benny Rietveld and the keyboard player David Matthews seems to channel McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Cedar Walton at will. Vocals are added here and there by Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas. Kicking off with Echoes of Angels and then heading into The Live Divine, the set shows what seems to be effortless and endless style and power, the guitars blending and then dancing round each other, like aural fireflies.

Don’t let the white clothing and spiritual stuff put you off, this band rocks out and puts feel above technique wherever it counts. Naima is gently handled – McLaughlin admitted to enjoying the Jeff Beck rendition – whilst the Lightnin’ Hopkins number Downstairs is given a toe-tapping r & b workout ; then a nod to Miles on Black Satin is a further treat. John was of course on Bitches Brew. At times here his guitar playing recalls his work with LifeTime, the shortlived outfit with Tony Williams, Young and Jack Bruce, who almost fell over when I told him I was there at their London Marquee debut European gig. ( ‘Where did it put your head, Pete ? !! Where ??!!’). A Love Supreme is reprised in a slightly mellower vein and it still takes your mind somewhere else. The great John Lee Hooker cut Shake It Up and Go takes the concert out on a chugging blues groove.

Having been turned on to Pharoah Sanders’ Upper & Lower Egypt by the late and dear Rob Tyner of the MC5 back in the day, I was pleased to find they had included this brooding tune in the set and for me it is the highlight of the package. After a brief float through Venus, Carlos hits the edgy Egypt tempo at @ 2:09 whereupon a beaming McLaughlin starts pumping out the theme, with Carlos doubling than stalking the motif before they both play blazing guitar breaks, laying back to let the electric piano mentholate the tune over pounding drums and percussion.

Then Carlos lays into his guitar like Lou Reed on Run Run Run as they head towards the wrap-up. It’s a starburst of cathartic rock splendour.

This is my live recording release of the year, but best of all it looks as though it was fun.

Pete Sargeant

Santana & McLaughlin: ‘Invitation To Illumination’ Live at Montreux 2011 is out now on Eagle Rock/Universal. To purchase it visit: